Posted by: Knightbird | June 22, 2010

Digital 5S + 2

Today I am posting an article by our Lean Champion at Chugachmiut. Enjoy Kert’s story.

Chugachmiut’s Lean Initiative Enters the Digital Gemba

By Kert LaBelle, Lean Coordinator

Like many companies, Chugachmiut started small when it came to implementing technology and grew as needed.  When we entered the computer age in the Nineties, computer files were stored on desktop hard drives and backed up (when told to) onto floppy disks.  As various incarnations of network server space became available to employees, file proliferation continuously threatened to overtake the available storage space and documents took longer and longer to find.

Every so often, someone would be assigned to “clean out” what we called the Shared Drive, the network space that everyone can use and shows up on everybody’s computer as a storage drive.  This entailed having someone identify individual documents or whole folders that may be junk and find out if they can safely delete the useless files.

Earlier this month of June 2010, our Records and Information Manager, Tara, was given this daunting task.  Tara is a Lean Champion in training and asked me to facilitate a kaizen event to tackle this issue.  There are a lot of Lean tools that you could use to improve any process but in a moment of insight, I chose to use the 5S approach (in our case it is 5S+2).  5S is a system to manage space, supplies and equipment.  I imagined that 5S could work in a digital space as well.

5S comes to us from the Toyota Production System and refers to what we call in English Sort, Set-in-Order, Scrub or Shine, Standardize and Sustain.    Chugachmiut added two extra S’s in the form of Safety and Security.  In Sort phase, we would take everything out of an area to a ‘Red Tag Area’.  We then progress to Set-in-Order phase in which we would return those items that we all agree need to be there.  We would then Scrub the place until it Shines.  We would organize everything and Standardize the location and labeling of the items.  In the Sustain portion of the exercise, we would create management tools to ensure that the spaces keep the standards put in place.

In Lean we are told to “Go to Gemba” or go to where it happens.  In the case of the Shared Drive, it happens on a server so that is where we went (digitally that is).  A team of cross-divisional staff volunteered to help rein in the current Shared Drive.  Everyone sat around a conference table where we all could see a projection of the Shared drive and we conducted the 5S+2.

We Created a Red Tag Area and put all of the folders in it, thus Sorting it.  As a group, we decided what will return (Set-in-Order).  We ignored Scrub as we didn’t have a digital version of that task.  We Standardized the naming system, management and responsibilities of the folders in the Shared Drive and worked in scheduled checks and audits to Sustain the level of orderliness of the folders.

We ended up with a few items on our To-Do list.  We needed to draft some policies and procedures.  We needed to inform and instruct the other employees on the changes.  We also needed to plan for the future. The next phase of digital storage for Chugachmiut is SharePoint Server and we want to prevent the same mistakes from happening again.

As more and more work becomes information based, more of the Gemba will be digital.  Who knows, someday we may conduct world-wide interdivisional fishbone kaizen events from the comfort of our living rooms.  The computer realm is the new frontier for Lean.  Chugachmiut is probably not the first to document applying Lean to the digital space but we can try to be pioneers in teaching how to do it.


  1. Nice application of 5S. I’ve found that archiving works kind of nice as an analagous red tag area, especially for people who just can’t let go of some documents. Depending upon how much reorganizing you did in your “set in order” phase, I wonder if a newly-created chart that gives a schematic of the new structure might help. It could reduce some searching time, which is unfortunately very common in office situations. I sometimes find myself lost in different drives and folders when I’m searching for documents.

    Nice to see 5S applied to cyberspace. Isn’t it amazing that regardless of all the good things computers bring to us, how they can actually hide waste?

  2. Nice job Kert! I am a Lean Consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and I am being charged with developing a 5S standard. Can you tell me how your process has progressed since you initiated it? Also, have you done more to transition to SharePoint? We use SharePoint quite a bit and I was just wondering how that was working. Thanks

    • Thanks for the comment Lisa. I have forwarded your contact information and comment to Kert. He will probably respond by email.

  3. Hi, very nice article, we have a strong 5s / Lean culture, as IT manager i am trying to take this to the virtual world, shared drives etc , i would love to hear more of how you have progressed …

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